Dialogue 23 | Ana Letícia Barreto

…regardless of the language and technique chosen, aesthetics is very important in my work. I like to grab the observer by the beauty, by a refined technique…’

Ana Letícia Barreto

The Brazilian writer Guimarães Rosa was right: ‘Everything that changes life comes quietly in the dark, with no warning preparations’.

The story of a woman and immigrant artist

Although I have been drawing since I was a child, very motivated by an aunt, Maria Antonia Terciani, who was an art teacher, I started my path in the arts at the age of 16, when I started working in the area of editorial and advertising illustration. I worked for many years in this area as a freelancer. Also at the age of 16 I started giving drawing classes (illustration, cartoons, caricature and comics).

At first as an assistant to my teacher and two years later I opened my own studio school. Parallel to my work as an illustrator, I started to learn painting. On the one hand it helped me a lot to improve my illustrations, but on the other hand it was a different language which I fell in love with. 

Already working as a freelancer in the area, I began to realize that advertising wasn’t for me. Since I was a teenager I had a great desire to study abroad. I especially wanted to get to know Italy to see the great masters up close, the ones I learned to admire from my aunt’s art history books. 

So in 1998, I cancelled my university registration, took my savings and spent a semester at the Istituto Lorenzo di Medici in Florence, studying drawing, painting, engraving and history of art. It was a great challenge, but it was such a fantastic experience that two years later I was back, this time with a scholarship from the Rotary International Foundation. I completed my studies at this American college in Florence and also did a period of artistic residency with two South African professors, Claire Gavronsky and Rose Shakinovsky, who were the coordinators of the art department.

Then I returned to Brazil where I continued to teach, started to do more authorial work in painting, and sporadically also some illustrations to pay the bills.

In 2006 I received an invitation from the South African teachers to participate in the first part of a course for fine arts teachers and I went back to Tuscany again. At that time I was contacted by the Austrian artist Teresa Rutkowski who has an art school in Lisbon and who had also done that course. She proposed to me a virtual pedagogical exchange with hers in Lisbon. This partnership was so productive that in 2007 I received an invitation to teach in Lisbon at Nextart.

What was supposed to be one year in Portugal ended up being extended. First it was the master’s degree in visual arts and intermedia in Évora, then I met my husband and also artist Joaquim. Besides the individual projects we have some projects together and since 2015 we work as the duo Pocket Entropy. 

Hi, dear Leticia! First of all thank you for opening your life and dreams with us! Even before reading your story we found a very cultural line in your work. Would you say it is a passion? Or maybe a purpose?

The place where we are born and the places where we live throughout our lives have a great influence on our perception of the world, on our formation, on our cultural and human baggage. For me, it has always been inevitable to think about these issues and take them into my work, especially since I had the opportunity to leave Brazil to study in Florence, Italy. For the first time, I realised the symbolic weight of my nationality and the concepts and preconceptions it carries. The experience as a woman and immigrant here in Portugal since 2007 also has a very relevant weight in my artistic projects.

Besides the strong cultural side, we frequently observe the female figure present in your art. What is the main idea you intend to share with the public?

Ana Letícia Barreto, 2016. From the serie White Lies. Digital intervention from a photo taken by Luis Vasconcelos / White Lies series. Digital intervention – photo by Luis Vasconcelos, printing and intervention with metal tips on photographic paper

The presence of the female figure throughout my career has also accompanied my personal and artistic maturing and the deepening of research on certain subjects. Between 2001 and 2006 I carried out a project on the construction of femininity and the stereotypes associated to the feminine. In 2007, when I immigrated to Lisbon my reflections turned to the experience of being a woman and an immigrant.

This led to a Master’s project about the image of Brazilian women in Portugal. Then came an interest in knowing more about the role of women in the European colonial and neo-colonial project, especially in the Portuguese context, and as a result two works emerged: Almost family and The Desire of an Empire and the Empire of Desire.

Ana Letícia Barreto, 2020, 3D collage

This has always been a characteristic of your style or were you changing it through time?

The presence of the female figure is very strong in my work, but throughout my career I have also addressed other issues such as racism, colonialism, immigration and refugee issues, and more recently the challenges of the current pandemic situation. Specifically in relation to my style, it has changed as I have progressed not only in technical refinement, but more importantly in the conceptual work. I chose not to choose a technique or a very specific style. I like to choose the style and technique according to the project. It is almost always the concept I am going to work on that determines the technique I choose, as I like to think that each material has a metaphorical characteristic that can add new reading layers to the work.

Ana Letícia Barreto. Da Série Terra Ancestral, Solo Sagrado: Marubo / Ancestral Land, Sacred Ground Series: Marubo, 2019, Watercolor on Fabriano paper, 50 x 70 cm

How do you connect yourself and all these places where you have lived and studied with your style?

From Brazil, I highlight mainly my family background. My parents were teachers and especially my mother always emphasized the importance of a critical view of the world. My initial training was in illustration, cartoons, caricature and drawings, areas in which I worked for many years as a freelancer. The cartoon was the first form of expression where I experienced this questioning angle on reality. 

The period in Italy was the great turning point. Understanding the differences between illustration and fine arts was the first challenge. In Italy, besides attending courses in drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture and art history, I had a course called Mixed Media and that continues to have a huge influence on my work. Different from the usual concept of “mixing techniques”, this course proposed experimenting with different languages, from collage to installation, always in parallel with the study of art history. From then on I became aware that I could use several languages and techniques in the same project, and that aesthetics and concept, when they go hand in hand, make our idea even more powerful. Here in Portugal and also in Germany, where my partner was born, I met the work of incredible artists who are very inspiring. Also the fact that I’ve been teaching drawing and painting for 30 years means I’m always looking to improve myself, to learn new techniques and approaches.

In your work we find a wide range of collections that goes from collages to the use of watercolour and photographs… What is your creative process and how do you find and choose your materials/media?

As I mentioned before, it is almost always the concept I want to work with that determines the technique I choose. And often they are materials that I have no experience with, as happened with the project The Colour of Silence, where I made numerous paintings with bleach. This project started from a research about the historical construction of racism and particularly the role of whiteness in this process. I only knew that I would need a material that “bleached”. From all the materials I tried, bleach was the one that conceptually proved to be the most powerful. It was a very complicated material to “dominate”, because there is no correction possible. The painting happens by a process of erasing from a black fabric.

But regardless of the language and technique chosen, aesthetics is very important in my work. I like to grab the observer by the beauty, by a refined technique. It is just that my work is never what it appears at first sight, as I like to play with the expectations of the viewer, mixing reality and illusion, and subverting the use of classical artistic techniques, exploring more experimental approaches. Even a watercolour, which at first sight may seem only beautiful and innocent will present other layers of meaning when observed more closely.

Have you been participating in artistic residencies, open calls or any  online activities during this pandemic period? How are you dealing with challenging times?

Since March last year, much of my routine has gone online. Classes had to be readapted and artwork also had to be reinvented. With projects and exhibitions being postponed or cancelled because of the pandemic, we artists had to look for new opportunities online. So since last year I have been participating in online conferences and various virtual exhibitions, organised in different countries. My partner and I are always on the hunt for open calls to which we are sending applications. Emotionally this period has been a great challenge and art is always an excellent way to seek some balance. In my case, I created a large series of collages I have entitled Quarantine Diaries.

Ana Letícia Barreto, The Quarantine Diary #19, 2020, collage

These collages reflect my feelings during the moments of uncertainty we go through: fear, the awareness of impermanence, insecurity, the lack of contact with friends and family, and my reactions to the news from my home country, Brazil. The collages also reflect my difficulty in dealing with a kind of reality that seems straight out of an Ionesco piece, where certain political leaders are rhinos too big to ignore.

We live in a time of suspension of reality. The things we have learned to call reality break up, dissolve like paint in water. The moment we are going through is one of total unpredictability and demands that we learn to live one day at a time. Of this reality that has broken, I feel that I am gradually putting together the pieces inside me, trying to rebuild. The Brazilian writer Guimarães Rosa was right: “Everything that changes life comes quietly in the dark, with no warning preparations”. “Living is a ripping and mending.”

Anything planned for your future? New media, art residencies, webinars that you would like to share with us?

One of my collage works was selected for the exhibition “YOUR OWN GAME”, which will be part of the Rezh da kley FEST (Cut and Glue FEST) from 3 to 31 July in Moscow (Russia) at the gallery “Na Peschanoy”. I am also participating in the virtual exhibition NEXT (Au Suivant), organized by Cultivate Gallery, London. 

My partner Joaquim Marques (with whom I form the artistic duo Pocket Entropy) and I are participating in the group exhibition “Home”, organized by the curator Catalina Aranguren (Walk Bye) at the Morgan Library in Jersey City, NJ.

Could you describe your work in one word?


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